Everyone knows about Stonehenge, but just 20 miles north (25 by the roads), Avebury has its own stone circle as part of the largest and most complex prehistoric site in England. Getting there requires the determination to go off the beaten track, but it is well worth the diversion. Close to Marlborough and other beautiful parts of Wiltshire, anyone interested in the history of the land would be advised to make a stop here.
Unlike Stonehenge, you are always able to go right up to the stones at Avebury. They are massive, spaced evenly apart, but very different in shape. The circle was built and altered from around 2850BC until about 2200BC. The whole site spans around 28 1/2 acres, which includes the village of Avebury. Some stones have fallen down, but many remain upright and impressive.
The Red Lion, advertising itself as the pub in a stone circle
Within the greater henge ditch are three rings of stones, an inner stone circle and two smaller ones. Not all the stones are present, with smaller ones marking the spots of absent larger ones. A lot of the site was preserved thanks to Alexander Keiller, who excavated and re-erected many stones during the 1930s, and whose archaeological collections are displayed in the nearby museum. His excavations were conducted in the 1930s, and the museum bears his name. There are stables, with archaeological finds from across the site, and a barn, which is a 17th century threshing barn remodelled to house activities for children.
Avebury does still attract those interested in the modern day version of pagan worship, so it is possible that you may see people venerating the site. Particularly round the Summer Solstice, the site attracts many who want to engage in its historic religious practices.
Avebury Henge is just part of a much larger Neolithic and Bronze age site. Round the corner, just onto the A4, is Silbury Hill. Silbury is the largest man-made prehistoric hill in England, if not further afield. It is unclear precisely what it was for, but it stands proudly over the landscape, unmissable, striking. Tunnels were built into it in the twentieth century, but have now been filled in.
On the other side of the A4 are the West Kennet Long Barrows, a further, different aspect to the site. With Stonehenge, the area has been designated a World Heritage Site, making it a must-visit place for those interested in all the world's wonders.
There is a small shop (the henge shop) selling souvenirs, and importantly, ice cream. There is also a small museum and site dedicated to an old farm in the area. Avebury is only a small village, but it does attract a lot of tourists, particularly in good weather.
The site is managed by both the National Trust and English Heritage. Entrance is free, but parking is pay and display. There is lots of room in the car park, but it is a little walk from the main site. a footpath keeps you off the main road. Sensible footwear is advised as you'll need to walk across country and over gates and stiles.